What Is A Salmon Ladder? Discover The Answer For The First Time!

​Have you ever wondered what a salmon ladder is? If you’re just like me who’s not really familiar with the competition, Ninja Warrior, I know this might even be the first time you heard of it as an athletic obstacle.

According to my research, the salmon ladder is inspired by an actual fish ladder, a structure which helps fish in their migration around barriers such as dams by enabling them to swim and leap up a series of relatively low steps, hence ladder.

So if you think the salmon ladder also involves a series of steps, you guessed right! But it is so much more complicated than that, making it one of the most feared and overestimated obstacle of all time.


What Is A Salmon Ladder?

First introduced in 2007 as part of the obstacle course in the competition, Sasuke or also known as Ninja Warrior in Japan, this challenging obstacle has been famous for taking down competitors more than any other obstacle in the second stage!

So, how does a salmon ladder look like? It is composed of two upright support beams about a meter apart with protrusions across each other that you use as “steps” as you climb using a movable “rung”. (see photo below)

How Do You Do The Salmon Ladder?

Now that you have a basic knowledge about the salmon ladder, you are ready to know more about how it’s done, the different variations of the exercise, the skills involved in doing it, and how to construct your salmon ladder.

You first grab hold of the bar or rung as if doing a pull-up, use your core to pull the entire body up and maintain stability while also using your grip to keep holding on to the bar.

Then, in that explosive moment of “weightlessness”, while you are holding your body up, you use your momentum to hop the bar up to the next notch on the ladder and keep on doing so all the way to the top notch.

Sounds fairly easy, right? However, experts and competitors claim that it requires not only upper body strength but also efficiency and coordination, and that due to the obstacle’s simplicity yet extreme difficulty, it developed a need for technique.

In fact, according to sports physician Dr. Scott Weiss, the key with training for this exercise, believe it or not, has nothing to do with strength, but about pivoting and using the physics and momentum of your body and wiggling like a salmon to propel yourself upward.

Variations Of The Salmon Ladder

And as if the simple salmon ladder wasn’t hard enough, it has even evolved into several variations throughout the course of Ninja Warrior. These include the double salmon ladder, the switch or swap salmon ladder, and the salmon ladder nobori and kudari or the up and down the salmon ladder.

Salmon Ladder

Via: mtv.com

True to its name, the double salmon ladder is composed of two parallel walls with four rungs each. Here, you have to climb the first set with your back facing the second set, turn your body around, and transfer the bar to the second, higher wall set.

Next is the swap salmon ladder, which like the double salmon ladder consists of two parallel walls. This time, the walls are of the same height, and you have to jump from one rung of the first set, turn around, and jump to the next rung on the second set.

Lastly, the up and down salmon ladder like the previous two variants, include two parallel walls but this time you have to climb up the first set, then transfer and climb down the second set.

Tips To Conquer The Salmon Ladder

If you have absolutely no experience with the salmon ladder, it might be best to know first what the people who actually tried and trained for it has to say before doing the exercise. Here are a few helpful tips for you from some of them.

American Ninja Warrior season 7 competitor and personal trainer JJ Woods said he practices by doing explosive clapping pull-ups to imitate the motion and the moment of almost weightlessness in between rungs.

Woods also said that you don’t aim for the next pegs, rather, you must aim for a position higher than that, like below the next ones, to give yourself some room just in case.

Also, he believes there is hope in doing the salmon ladder for people like us who may not be perfectly sculpted but we still must have an adequate understanding of our body mechanics.

Dr. Weiss also supports this by saying it’s not about muscling through it but rather involves physics and a thorough mastery of technique. This makes it easier for women who are known to have less upper body strength than men, but pick up the wiggling technique faster.

Based on these and some other statements from experts, I can summarize the tips for you: mastering pull-ups especially the clap pull-ups for momentum, mental preparation, and finally, repetition. As they say, “practice makes perfect”.

How To Build Your Own Salmon Ladder

For a better shot at doing it, you can quickly build your own salmon ladder as well as its different variants right in your own backyard or home. To do that, here are a few steps and guidelines in making your own salmon ladder obstacle.

First, you have to make the support beam. You can use sturdy wooden beams fixed on the ground or even small trees will do. Make sure you have both sides spaced about 3.5 feet apart.

Next, for the rungs, you can use pieces of wood or the thickest nail you can find, and stick these on the beams at a 35 degree angle with about 4 inches sticking out.

For a double wall set variant, you want to make a gap of about 4 feet between the two sets. Also, a metal or wood rod may work as long it is about half a feet longer than the width of the wall.


Although body built or form does not actually help in performing and conquering the salmon ladder as I’ve mentioned earlier, you may find yourself more motivated in trying the obstacle with a particular body shape.

In doing so, multivitamins and food supplements for weight lifting and bodybuilding may just be the thing for you! This helps provide the nutrients to facilitate your muscular growth, and some of these can be bought in drugstores. However, I still suggest you consult a health expert to find which ones will work best for your lifestyle and body type.

If you have any questions about these or if you want to know more about the salmon ladder, feel free to ask and post your comments below! It would be my pleasure to assist you and look into your concerns.

Emily Brathen

Hi there! I'm Emily Brathen. I am a fitness and yoga instructor and a mom of one. Despite my hectic schedule, I still find time for doing the thing I love most - fitness and yoga. I love doing and teaching fitness and yoga because in my own little way, I am able to encourage people to take health and fitness back into their own hands.

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